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Good news and bad on key issues in 2010

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Dec. 29, 2010 at 7:34 pm with No Comments »
December 29, 2010 5:40 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Looking back at what we’ve written in this space over the past 12 months, we saw the principle of yin and yang at work. On most any big topic, we found things that went very right and things that went very wrong.

University of Washington Tacoma graduate Ashley Walker embraces her daughter Rion, 2, after UWT’s 20th commencement ceremony June 11. Walker, a single mother, was the student speaker at the ceremony. (Staff file photo)

The battle over open government, for example, brought the usual setbacks – especially on the local level, where too many officials just don’t get the state’s open meetings and open records laws. Take Tacoma’s new City Council and mayor who took office in January. Right off the bat, they gave in to the governmental impulse toward secrecy while filling two council vacancies created by the November election results.

They should have discussed the merits of the 44 applicants for those vacancies in public, but it became obvious that most of it had been done behind closed doors. The News Tribune filed suit, and Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff found a “reasonable inference” that the council had violated the law and that future executive sessions should be taped.

In the end, it was a victory for the public. A superior court decision doesn’t have the weight of precedent, but this one was another affirmation that the public’s business must be conducted in public.

A far bigger victory came out of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 8-1 in June that – except in rare cases – petitions for initiatives and referendums are public documents. In this case, Protect Marriage Washington sought a referendum to repeal civil unions for gay couples and argued that those who signed the petitions had a constitutional right to keep their identities secret.

Had they prevailed on that argument, every petition to put a measure on the ballot – anywhere in the country – could have been withheld from public scrutiny.

The high court’s decisive ruling helped force the release of a slew of Washington initiative petitions that had been in a legal holding pattern. The fate of the R-71 signatures remains undecided; Protect Marriage Washington might yet prevail if it can prove a likelihood that signers faced retaliation or harassment from gay-rights activists. But the big constitutional question has been settled resoundingly in favor of open government.

In the realm of education, we celebrated two significant milestones at the University of Washington Tacoma in June: its 20th birthday and the award of its 10,000th diploma. We cited the creation and growth of the downtown branch campus as perhaps “the single most important development in the South Sound over the last quarter century.”

Its impact has been felt in everything from downtown revitalization to enhanced college opportunities for placebound students and those who want a smaller public university experience than they’d get at the main UW campus in Seattle.

But K-12 education took a hit when the state didn’t make even the first cut for the Race to the Top grants the Obama administration offered as prizes for those states most serious about retooling their public schools. The state’s poor showing reflects the inability – and in too many cases, unwillingness – of lawmakers, school districts and teachers unions to coalesce around the kinds of reforms that are badly needed if student achievement is to improve.

For historic preservation, more yin and yang. In April we celebrated when McMenamins – the Portland-based hotel-and-brew pub chain – revealed plans for restoration of the long-neglected Tacoma Elks Temple on the northernmost end of downtown. The scope of the project was even more ambitious than McMenamins had outlined the previous year when the deal saving the Elks Temple was struck. This promises to create excitement in a district that badly needs it.

But last month, the news from that end of town was awful. It turned out that the owner of Old City Hall had neglected that iconic building to the point that a pipe ruptured after a freeze and flooded the interior. The city, we urged, must get more aggressive and creative in dealing not only with Old City Hall but with other historic buildings that remain in danger of going the way of the Luzon, which was razed in 2009.

Tacoma cannot afford the loss of landmarks as distinctive and significant as Old City Hall.

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